What is the catalog?

Lorcan 2 min read

I agreed with the comment Larry Campbell left about the catalog below:

… I was particularly interested in your final paragraph above. I think your difficulty with the word “catalogue” reflects only a portion of the difficulty that our users are having with it. The apparently naive question, “what is ‘the catalogue’ anyway?” (with or without the “ue”) seems surprisingly difficult to answer — and saying that it’s the database for, or index into, our “collection” may only worsen the problem, since it opens up the question of what exactly “our collection” is supposed to be any longer (e.g., does or should “our collection” include anything to which we have access? But clearly “our catalogue” doesn’t and can’t include all that. Etc.) [Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog: Discovery and disclosure again]

I had been saying that I had had difficulty using the word catalog in a recent article – largely because the catalog represents a particular bundle of functionality, which may be reconfigured as we move forward.
Flowing from this confusion about the catalog, you might expect it to be offered in a variety of ways alongside the growing array of other services on the library website. And I think we can indeed see some of this. Here are two examples I was looking at recently.
The University of Birmingham lists the following under a heading ‘Online Catalogues’:

[Information Services: Online Catalogues]

On its library home page, the University of Bristol presents the catalog under a label “Metalib: your resource gateway”. You can go straight to the catalog or search at the Metalib level. This type of integration is likely to become more common.
Of course, one of the potential confusions for the user is if practices diverge between institutions. In some cases, materials may be available in the catalog, in others as separate resources. In some cases, the catalog may be absorbed into metasearch and resolution environments, in other cases not.
Incidentally, the reports by Overdue Ideas on the International Group of Ex-Libris Users presentations have much of interest to say about catalogs and other library systems issues.
Related entry:

Update: edited for sense and spelling. As some folks have observed there were a couple of hiccups with this entry. I hope things are back to normal.


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